Dream disorders could be early indicator of future brain disease

(Tom Hale/ IFL Science) — A new piece of research has found a strange and surprising connection between dreaming and a whole bunch of neurodegenerative diseases, including Parkinson’s disease and Lewy bodies dementia.

Speaking at the 2017 Canadian Neuroscience Meeting, Dr John Peever of the University of Toronto explained how his team discovered that Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep behavior disorders could be a strong indicator of neurological disease in later life.

Science has understood the brain stem has played a role in dreaming during REM sleep for over half a century. On top of dreaming, REM sleep is also characterized by muscle paralysis and, you guessed it, movement of the eyes.

This new research has looked at the specific neurons in the brain stem that are activated during REM sleep. These neurons are the cells responsible for dreams – if you can control these cells, you can control their dreaming patterns. As part of their research, they identified the cells and even discovered how to artificially activate them on brains of mice, causing them to have a “rapid transition into REM sleep.”

After successfully pinpointing these neurons, they then found that those who suffer from dysfunction with these cells and suffer from a REM sleep behavior disorder were particularly at risk of neurodegenerative in later life. People suffering from this sleep disorder do not experience paralysis during REM, making them appear to physically act out their dreams as they sleep. (…)

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